Prolific singer-songwriter Ryan Adams recently released Ashes and Fire, his 13th studio album since leaving Whiskeytown in 2000 (but who’s counting?), and first solo release since leaving The Cardinals in 2009. The album, produced by the legendary Glyn Johns (The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Clash), was recorded at the Sunset Sound Factory in Hollywood, and was released in October on Adams’ own PAX-AM Records. The 11-track set, featuring contributions by Norah Jones, Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench, and Adams’ wife Mandy Moore, might give Ryan Adams junkies their fix, but probably won’t convert too many casual listeners. Ashes and Fire is a very “pleasant” and beautifully produced album that shows off Adams’ vocal range and talent, but it lacks any real fire. Although reminiscent of Adams’ classic Heartbreaker (produced by Ethan Johns, Glyn Johns’ son), this album takes few chances, and lacks the raw emotion and edge that made some of his past material so unbearably brilliant.
After years of struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, battling Meniere’s disease (a hearing disorder), and enduring several very public breakups, Ryan Adams seems to have finally found some solace and balance in his well-documented personal life. Married to singer-actress Mandy Moore since 2009, Adams now appears rejuvenated. This is good news for music fans.
Ashes and Fire, however, just scratches the surface of his ability. Adams’ voice sounds incredible on the album, and the production quality is unmistakable, but the album just seems to wander aimlessly sometimes, unmanned. Adams lays out the concept of the album in the soulful opening track “Dirty Rain”, when he sings “I’m just looking through the rubble / Trying to find out who we were.” This describes the feeling of the album perfectly. It’s almost an outsider’s perspective on emotions long gone, looking back on all that has transpired and trying to use that to piece together the present. The autobiographical honesty that has defined Adams’ past work feels absent, or at least dulled.
The album opens with “Dirty Rain”, a melodic track in which the soulful imagery of Adams’ lyrics really shine through. The title track “Ashes and Fire” follows, and is actually reminscent of his early work with Whiskeytown, with a surprisingly catchy hook. But the album takes a dramatic drop after that. “Chains of Love” is a more upbeat song with orchestral support, and does its best to reclaim the latter half of the album, although falling just short. The ballads “Lucky Now” and “Invisible Riverside” have catchy melodies, but seem to get lost in the fray. In fact, they seem to blur into each other.
Check out the video for “Lucky Now”, the first single off Ashes and Fire:
Ashes and Fire is a “nice” album, but it feels very… content. At his best, Adams’ fragile lyrics and trembling voice can put butterflies in your stomach and tears in your eyes, make you feel hopelessly alone, and then seconds later resolute to fight your way out of it. Adams’ talent is unmistakable on this latest album, but it lacks that raw emotion that puts you on edge. It feels like something you would hear and enjoy at a coffee shop, but not something you would hunker down with at the end of a long night and devour (Heartbreaker, Gold). I enjoyed this album, don’t get me wrong, but there is very little depth to it. It is a good listen, but I don’t foresee it having any longevity in my rotation. Even when I find myself in a Ryan Adams mood, he just has too many albums I’d rather put on.
Ryan Adams’ sold-out Ashes and Fire tour came through California back in October. He doesn’t have any more California or Texas dates scheduled right now, but he did just announce 8 new American shows throughout the midwest in 2012. Those tickets go on sale today! For more tour info, check out the official Pax-Am site.
|1. Dirty Rain|
|2. Ashes & Fire|
|3. Come Home|
|5. Do I Wait|
|6. Chains of Love|
|7. Invisible Riverside|
|8. Save Me|
|10. Lucky Now|
11. I love You But I Don’t Know What To Do
~I just have higher standards for Ryan Adams. Ashes and Fire might give Ryan Adams junkies their fix, but it won’t convert too many casual listeners. It takes few chances, and lacks the raw emotion and edge that made some of his past material so unbearably brilliant. If you’ve already been converted, you’ll enjoy this album, but it won’t be a mainstay on your iPod rotation.